Storybook Napa Valley is a perfect time of year to visit in November. The hustle bustle of harvest time is over. The grapes have begun their journey from juice to fermentation to barrel. The grapevines are turning beautiful fall colors and preparing to drop their leaves and go dormant for the winter. It is a slower pace, and the locals seem to be catching their breath. Highway 29 (St. Helena Highway), the two lane highway which runs North to South through the heart of Napa Valley can seem downright desolate.
I like to stay in Rutherford, off of Highway 29, located in about the middle of the valley at Rancho Caymus at 1140 Rutherford Rd., Rutherford, CA 94573 (tel) (800) 695-8284. www.ranchocaymus.com. It is an Early Spanish California style B&B with 26 rooms/suites which open to an enchanting outdoor garden courtyard.
There are so many wonderful and interesting vineyards and wineries in the immediate area, it is really hard to narrow which ones to visit. I will give you three of my favorites, for three very garden-related reasons:
1) Peju Province Vineyard is a stone's throw from the Rancho Caymus, south on Highway 29. It is like stepping into the French countryside with it's Mediterranean-style garden and, and curved Sycamore trees welcoming you to it's French Provincial tasting room. Tony Peju was a commercial landscape designer with a nursery and flower business in Los Angeles, before he and his wife, Herta, relocated in 1982 to Rutherford on 30 acres, and created their winery and surrounding garden. Peju Province is open daily 10am-6pm, 8466 St. Helena Highway, (707) 963-3600, www.pejuprovince.com.
2) Cakebread Cellars is a little further south on Highway 29 from Peju Province Vineyard. Jack and Dolores Cakebread since 1973, have been one of the most creative and successful winery families in Napa Valley. Delores is famous for her huge organic kitchen garden, which is to the left of the wine tasting entrance. All tastings and tours are by prior appointment. Cakebread Cellars, 8300 St. Helena Highway, (800) 588-0298, www.cakebread.com.
3) Shafer Vineyards is tucked away over on the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap District, so you will have to head east and cross over the valley floor to the other side of Napa Valley. All tastings are by prior appointment (I recommend inquiring at least a month in advance), and give you specific directions to their winery at that time. John Shafer, Founder, and his son, Doug Shafer, President, and Elias Fernandez, Winemaker are the individuals responsible for Shafer Vineyards becoming "one of the world's greatest wineries", according to Robert M. Parker, Jr.
Not only is Shafer Vineyard's wine outstanding, but their organic practices are too! They are 100% solar powered, reuse and recycle their own water, encourage owls and hawks in their ecosystem, plant cover crops for the health of their vines, and are continuing to lead in the forefront of sustainable agriculture. www.shafervineyards.com
Favorite Breakfast: Gordon's Cafe & Wine Bar, 6770 Washington St. Yountville, CA 94599, (707) 944-8246. Favorite Lunch: Oakville Grocery Napa Valley, www.oakvillegrocery.com, (707) 944-8802. Favorite Dinner: Bouchon Bistro, 6534 Washington St., Yountville, www.bouchonbistro.com, (707) 944-8037.